The New Republic’s James Kirchick wonders why libertarians don’t care more about the Ron Paul newsletters—the ones reported about years ago and now on the front page of the New York Times. Ilya Somin rightly observes that, actually, many libertarians have been quite upset about that, and similar problems, for quite a long time now. I even kept a long list of libertarians rejecting Paul about the time that the newsletter story first broke.
Of course, there are still many people who are ignoring the newsletters. But I think Kirchick doesn’t quite get why, and I’ll use myself as an example. I’m proud to consider myself among the most outspoken of Paul’s libertarian critics, and yet I haven’t written or talked much about the newsletter thing because, as I see it, they are relatively minor in the scale of Paul’s failings. First, Paul can plausibly claim that the objectionable newsletters were written by someone else, so that his fault in the matter is “only” negligent. And that does win some people over—I saw one comment on Facebook, for instance: “I do, however, think it crystal-clear that Dr. Paul didn't write these. Therefore, I continue to support him.” This attitude is wrong, if for no other reason than that a President’s duties include overseeing others. But still, it is one reason the newsletter story doesn't really stick for many of his supporters.
But the deeper reason why the newsletter story doesn’t have that much purchase with them, or even with people like me, is that the newsletter story isn’t really about ideas. It’s more about stupid epithets and offensive verbiage that really lack any intellectual content. Paul’s newsletters are nasty, childish name-calling, which Paul shouldn’t have indulged in, and which indicate at best a startling lack of awareness, and at worst an indulgence in disgusting race-baiting tribalism. But in the end, that is unrelated to what attracts or repels people when it comes to Ron Paul’s message. What Paul offers voters, and what isn’t offered by any other candidate left or right, is ideas: policy, philosophy, economics, morality. Paul is satisfying a hunger for genuine ideas, among a populace starved on a diet of empty media-driven brain candy, Progressive mystique and hand-waving, and worn, emotionalistic campaign sloganeering. The newsletter story sounds to such people like still more emotionalism, and that’s why they don’t care as perhaps they ought to. Kirchick spins this, of course, in a Progressive direction: people aren’t interested in the newsletter story, he says, because “[l]ibertarianism is an ideology rather than a philosophy of government.” This is a meaningless phrase, but strip it down and what Kirchick means is that libertarianism is based on principles instead of pragmatic, momentary, anti-intellectual puffery, so that one can only meet Paul’s message in an interesting way by countering it with other ideas—something the newsletter story fails to do.
What’s really upsetting about all of this is that Ron Paul is terrible on ideas. Far, far worse than his newsletters are his positions on privacy rights, or international relations. Paul is an enemy of personal liberty; a man who believes it’s okay for the government to send people with guns into your bedroom to drag you from the arms of your loved ones. When confronted with his horrendous speech on this issue, his supporters will often take shelter in an appeal to federalism—yet Paul supports a nationwide ban on abortion. His views on the Civil War are worse than ignorant; they demonstrate a perverse understanding of the U.S. Constitution that is, sadly, quite popular among the paleo-conservatives who rally around Lew Rockwell; and his views with regard to the Iranian-led war against western civilization are simply beyond the pale. If libertarians would look into Paul’s actual views, they would discover that he is not actually a libertarian at all; he doesn’t even call himself one. He is a states-rights religious conservative; he is a con man, who has sadly fooled many good libertarians into thinking he’s one of them. That is where the real debate should take place, and from whence, stupid and offensive and unacceptable as they are, the newsletters simply lead us astray.